Winter Clothes

you get a little more when you wear a little less

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I hustle outside – without socks – wearing loose fitting shoes, a threadbare t-shirt, and what we as a society have collectively, wordlessly agreed to call “jammie pants.”

Dirty, grey ice grips my uneven concrete step, holding it hostage for the night. So quiet and cold. All over the driveway odd lumps of snow slowly freeze – like the snow does every night as it clings to the Earth, spinning past flickering stars, hurtling through black space at speeds I can’t really wrap my head around. 

And here I am, too. Short of breath. Bare of ankle. Pants of jammie.

On my way outside, I passed all manner of coats and hats and boots. Too much trouble for a quick jaunt to the garbage can. I’m tough, I can handle it, I thought. I require my kids to wear all that stuff – plus snow pants – but come on. I’m a grownup. I’m afforded certain liberties when it comes to winter attire because, obviously, I know what I’m doing.

It’s eleven degrees below zero. The night is filled with beauty and frigid oxygen. The air pierces my chest like I’m sucking an icy hedgehog into my lungs. Right up through my nose. Maybe I don't know what I'm doing. 

I see the night is sharp and clear, with things that sparkle way up high and way down low. I toss the garbage into the can and hurry back inside.

I slam the door behind me as shivers rack my body. I make little fists and stand there – next to the coats – clenched in silence as my muscles curl into tight wads of leather. I look at my wife.

“Wooo! It’s cold outside. Jeez!” 

She looks at my t-shirt. She looks at my face. I won’t describe the look. It takes me all night to warm back up.

What a luxury, to endure subzero weather for a few moments knowing there’s a warm house to save you. I thought it would be fun to rush outside into the cold, given my less-than-woodsman-like existence, given my love of the couch. But here I am in a city where some people would give anything for a warm house full of warm winter clothes. They’ll be “having fun” all winter long.

I appreciate my home and the furnace chugging away in its basement. Yet the night is sharp and clear, and if I have the luxury of warmth, I’m also given the responsibility to appreciate what’s outside. To respect the cold. To breathe it in. To look up and see a billion glittering stars bite into the darkness. Brilliant. And hungry.

I should pull on my boots and my coat and go out walking – 11 degrees below zero. I should climb up the hill near my house, each footstep a styrofoam squawk against the snow, frozen skintight against the brittle yellow grass. I could look over the city. The air could sting my eyes. I could smile and breathe.

But tonight I throw a blanket around my shoulders and huddle up on the couch. I smile. Not for the cold, cold night, but for the people close to me and for the pillow that lies in wait for my sleepy head. Maybe I should put on some socks.

In winter, miles and miles of ice cold air tether the ground to the starry sky, and here we are, specs of blood and bone, scattered around inside it, leaping from our houses, shoveling snow off the driveway, stumbling hand-in-hand down the sidewalk, or hustling out to the garbage can in our ridiculous jammie pants.

Here we are. Shivering and alive.